'Tis the season to be jazzy
With the holidays at hand, Atlanta jazz artists offer a glimpse at some of their favorite Christmas songs and recordings:
"My favorite is 'The Christmas Song,'" says vocalist Gwen Hughes, who specifically mentions Nat King Cole's classic rendition. "The tune is more sophisticated than other Christmas tunes out there, a very sophisticated set of changes. It doesn't alienate the average listener, but if you analyze it, it's jazz."
Hughes performs at Churchill Grounds, Sat., Dec. 23. Cole's 1963 release, The Christmas Song, is available on CD.
Pianist Bill Anschell singles out "Winter Wonderland" and "Greensleeves" as musically intriguing. John Coltrane performed "Greensleeves" often; his version is available on the three-CD Retrospective: Impulse! Years. Anschell performs Mondays and Wednesdays at Veni Vidi Vici.
Guitarist Sal Gentile recalls a sultry rendition of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" by Ella Fitzgerald. "It's like Santa is some kind of stud, coming to town to take care of Mama," he says with a laugh. Gentile plays Wednesdays at Comeaux's in Alpharetta and Thursdays at My Cousin Vinny's in Marietta. Ella's sexy Santa appears on her 1960 release, Ella Fitzgerald Wishes You a Swinging Christmas.
Guitarist Mike Kelly mentions a memorable version of Charlie Parker performing "White Christmas" live at the Royal Roost in New York, Christmas Day, 1948. Kelly's trio plays Thursdays at Café 290. Parker's "White Christmas" appears on the release Complete Savoy Live Performances.
Not all jazz musicians are in tune with Christmas jazz, however. Bassist Neal Starkey — who joins Anschell at Veni Vidi Vici and Gary Motley at Churchill Grounds on Fri., Dec. 22 — has a more offbeat holiday taste: recordings by the comedic '40s/'50s performer Spike Jones.
"It's not jazz, but it's hilarious," Starkey says. Hear Jones' Christmas recordings on Let's Sing a Song of Christmas (from 1956, reissued on CD).